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The impact of Storm Babet in Derbyshire

Storm Babet caused more than £1.3 million in damage to Derbyshire’s bridges, roads and culverts, with no additional funding to help the cash-strapped county council with repairs.

A Derbyshire County Council scrutiny meeting yesterday (February 28) heard how the “reverberations” of the “dreadful” impact of Storm Babet, which hit from October 18-21 last year, are still being felt.

Chris Henning, the county council’s executive director of place, said: “Derbyshire is used to severe weather but this was unprecedented in terms of the breadth and depth of the impact. It was genuinely unprecedented.”

The meeting was told a large number of people were still being directly affected by the storm’s impact, including salvaging their homes and possessions, while the council is going to be spending “many more months” assessing and repairing the damage.

Richard Ward, a senior project engineer in the county council’s flood team, detailed that a total of 1,675 properties and businesses were flooded and more than 250 people were evacuated from their homes in Sandiacre alone.

He said the storm led to 56 flood warnings and three severe flood warnings being issued by the Environment Agency, with a major incident declared on October 20, along with more than 70 road closures and six rest centres being set up.

It was the third-wettest three-day period in England and Wales since 1891 and the Midlands saw more rain in four days than in a whole average month – 67.2mm.

A total of 14 river gauges set new record levels during the storm, he detailed.

The storm did also lead to one Derbyshire death, with Maureen Gilbert, aged 83, being found dead in her terraced house in Tapton Terrace, Chesterfield, on October 21 after drowning in floodwater. 

Mr Ward said flood prevention measures protected 7,000 properties from flooding but said that some communities were completely isolated for days, with some areas of Chesterfield seeing three to four feet of floodwater surge into their homes.

Some areas which flooded are regularly impacted by flooding but Storm Babet saw a wide range of infrequently affected areas experience flood disruption.

Mr Ward said properties in Chesterfield had not flooded to that “magnitude” since 2007 but added that that would still be classed as fairly recent in comparison with some other areas.

He said the storm caused “significant damage” to the county’s roads, including “exacerbating” several existing landslips.

Cllr Nigel Gourlay said the storm was an “exceptional event” while Cllr Damien Greenhalgh said the storm ought not to be called “unprecedented” following several major flooding incidents in Derbyshire in the past five years alone.

Tim Braund, director of regulatory services at Derbyshire Dales District Council, said volunteer flood wardens were now being appointed in Ashbourne and Clifton following the storm.

He said supplies had been set up in the areas which are typically worst affected but that changed with Storm Babet and other areas of the county, including Chesterfield and Erewash, bore the brunt instead of the usually haemorrhaging Dales – including flood-prone Matlock.

Mr Braun said while he is aware of issues with people being provided with sandbags – with Cllr Steve Bull indicating issues in Ashbourne with tradesmen filling bags for residents – he said the flooding was so severe that it was “beyond sandbags”.

More than £1 million worth of damage was caused to county council structures such as bridges and culverts and £300,000 in damage was caused to roads, with assessments still ongoing.

Mr Ward said communities which were impacted would be assessed for future flood prevention methods, but this would be based on risk, “deliverability” and deprivation of the area.

He said: “The reality is we will not be able to provide flood mitigation to every community in Derbyshire. Availability of funding is a key factor.

“The sheer scale of it means we need to concentrate efforts where they matter the most.

“We are reliant on Government grant funding and the delivery of schemes can take many years so we need intermediate projects.”

He said communities will need to better prepare themselves and become more resilient, with wetter winters and drier summers becoming the norm.

Mr Ward said: “Building higher, wider, longer flood defences to reduce all flood risk isn’t always the most sustainable solution.”

The county council previously detailed how the November 2019 floods caused in excess of £20 million in damage and was not given any extra Government funding to help with repairs.

Repairs for Storm Babet will come from existing budgets, the meeting was told, with the council having to make £33 million in cutbacks by the end of March – now to be taken from emergency reserves – and a further £40 million next year.

Mr Ward said: “The funding is never enough, so it is always going to be a challenge. Sometimes the reality is we can’t deliver everything for everybody.”

Cllr Dermot Murphy said the planning system cannot do enough to prevent developers from being able to build houses in areas where the water network is struggling to provide capacity.

Tim Smith, representing Severn Trent, said developers have the right to connect to the network and they cannot block those connections, saying the company needs the help of councils to block schemes in some areas.

He said the organisation often finds it has less information than it thought it had on issues affecting its own network and encouraged residents to provide as much evidence as they can when indicating issues.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency made clear that river dredging was “not always the solution” and would not lead to any real improvement and would potentially need to be repeated annually.

 

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